Elections

GOP race for president has a strong Texas accent

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks at the Heritage Foundation’s Conservative Policy Summit in Washington on Jan. 13.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks at the Heritage Foundation’s Conservative Policy Summit in Washington on Jan. 13. The Associated Press

How many Texans does it take to run for president?

Well, five, apparently.

The Lone Star State, always ready with bragging rights and deep pockets, is laying claim to five Republicans with Texas connections who are testing the 2016 presidential waters.

“If you don’t have a Texas tie, you’re not running for president,” joked Bill Miller, an Austin consultant who advises both Republicans and Democrats.

Two potential contenders are immediately identified as Texans: the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, who exploded on the national scene after his surprise 2012 election; and Rick Perry, who had a gaffe-plagued presidential campaign three years ago and recently concluded 14 years as governor.

But three others claim Texas roots, in some cases extensive ones.

Jeb Bush, 61, was a two-term Florida governor but is a native Texan, a point that goes far with the state’s sticklers for being a true son of the Lone Star State.

Perhaps more important, he’s also the son of former President George H.W. Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush. Jeb Bush was born in Midland, grew up in Houston and attended the University of Texas at Austin.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., 52, the son of former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, grew up near Houston and studied at Baylor University in Waco.

The least prominent name on the list is Carly Fiorina, 60, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO and unsuccessful 2010 Senate candidate in California, who said she is “seriously considering” a run for president.

Fiorina, who was born in Austin, grew up elsewhere but would visit family in Texas.

‘It’s good for Texas’

With about 20 Republicans weighing whether to seek the nomination, Texas can claim a quarter of them.

“I think it’s good for Texas,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “Since 2007, Texas has created 1.2 million net jobs and other states created 80,000 jobs. Texas is an economic boomtown.”

But what is it about Texas that generates these go-getters? “It reflects a certain spirit and a certain flavor,” Cornyn said.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, said it’s “because Texas has been such a huge success.”

Is it a point of pride to have so many Texans and near-Texans running? “Absolutely,” she said.

Texans are famously boastful about the size and success of their state, even when it comes to politics.

Evan Smith, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit media outlet, said he is having his staff give special attention to the Texas-linked candidates. At a recent party celebrating the organization’s fifth anniversary, he stood in front of blowups of the five potential Texas presidential contenders.

“It is fundamentally a race that runs through Texas,” he said.

Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri said: “It makes sense that national Republican leaders would draw from the largest Republican state. We are developing a bench for national leaders.”

He said yet another name could join the list: former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., 56, who ran for president in 2012.

Since 2013, Santorum has been chief executive officer of EchoLight Studios, just north of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, which makes Christian films. That connection gives Santorum more of an asterisk than a place in line, but it may resonate with some donors.

‘Concentrated wealth’

And money, critical in the early campaign stages, is a Texas asset.

In the 2014 election cycle, Texas ranked fourth among states in contributions, with $143.4 million, 71 percent going to Republicans, according to federal data compiled by the nonpartisan OpenSecrets.org.

“Texas is one of America’s megastates with enormous concentrated wealth that can easily support multiple candidates for president,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Probably all the Texas-linked candidates will have some state-based moguls in their corner.”

Bush can tap into his family’s supporters in Texas, a network that’s been active recently. In November, his son, George P. Bush, won his first election, as state land commissioner.

“The Bush name is synonymous with Texas,” Munisteri said.

Similarly, Paul can look to his father’s financial base. Made up of admirers of the libertarian-leaning father and son, it’s a different group of donors from Bush’s establishment supporters.

Perry and Cruz have in-state financial strongholds as well. The former governor has a core of business connections, and the senator is popular with the Tea Party and evangelicals.

And Fiorina recently raised her profile in the state by campaigning for new Gov. Greg Abbott.

Munisteri said that “many people who play at the highest level will give to multiple candidates.”

Email: mrecio@mcclatchydc.com

Twitter: @maria–e–recio

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